6 Risks Worth Taking

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I used to believe that trusting the Universe was foolish,  After all, what’s a good mind worth if you’re just going to throw logic away and believe everything will work out okay?  It’s taken 52 years and a heap of effort to discover that happy people are trusting people – doesn’t make them stupid or less worthy of a good life – it is simply a fact.  Marshall Crenshaw has a song, “Cynical Girl,” about a girl who “harbors no illusions and she’s worldly-wise.”  I pretended I was that girl for a very long time.  It was boring and I missed out on so many adventures – including failures – because I chose the safety of a cynical attitude.

When I chose sobriety in 2015 I had no idea I was responding to an invitation from the Universe to trust and live.  Everything that happened in my life before I chose sobriety felt like either a punishment or reward instead of simply life.  Giving up a chemical dependence meant surrendering to the illusion that I had any power whatsoever over what happened to me and those I loved.  That’s frightening!  But I also discovered that my husband and I had been risk-takers all along.  We were living and thriving in spite of minor scrapes and bruises along the way.  It’s weird when you stop numbing yourself from pain because it’s almost like you start expecting painful experiences without fear or dread.  Once you accept what is, the energy that went into numbing and denial and supporting beliefs that no longer serve you is free and available to use.  And life gets fun again, even the messy parts.

So, here is a short list of 6 messy risks I have taken (all of them affecting my family, so I give them lots of credit) that have been worth the short-term pain:

  1. Change careers even after you have an established one – mostly my husband has done this (a couple of times!) and I have been the “best supporting” character, but I have done a smaller version of this myself.  After raising kids, I have had a series of very low paying and stressful jobs that have all provided experience and skills leading to the satisfying “big” job I am in today, at exactly the moment I am ready for it. But also, THIS BLOG.  Cheeky Street started out as what I thought was the pursuit of a new career but has become something so much more important to me.  It’s a creative outlet for me, plain and simple.  I am proud of it and happy to let it just be without pushing it to grow into the next wildly successful online endeavor in the history of the world.  It meets a need in my life and that’s good enough for me.
  2. Connect with new and different people you haven’t been in contact with – it’s all part of learning about the open-heartedness “thing”  I have been given the chance to build a relationship with a first cousin I never knew growing up – and her family – and it’s been the sweetest journey.  My cousin reached out to me for a connection and taking the time to discover a part of my family I might have never known is nothing short of a miracle.  It’s just beautiful and my gratitude for this opportunity overflows.
  3. Get off anti-depressants – This will not be the case for everyone, but I am one of the fortunate people who once held the belief I would always need pharmaceutical “support.”  I have had the good fortune to work with a psychologist who supports the belief that we can learn to manage our emotions and life without taking anti-depressants.  After 25 years of believing a pill was managing my emotions, I am completely off all forms of chemical “therapy” and feeling happy, healthy and capable of handling life sans pharmaceuticals.
  4. Trust your child’s journey – Without betraying his privacy, I will just say my son has had an unconventional experience with traditional education and I have learned to respect and trust his instincts as well as advocate for him within an educational system that still barely tolerates kids who are different.
  5. Ignore criticism from people who haven’t been where you’re going.  As a former miserable practitioner of people-pleasing, permission-asking, approval-seeking behavior, this is huge.  If they AIN’T doing what you’re doing then why do you care what they think?  Keep moving forward.
  6. Sell the Baby Grand Piano – we literally did do this in order to catch up on some bills and pay for a nice vacation to Lake Michigan, but I am also speaking metaphorically.  Don’t be afraid to let go of things that are weighing you down from the past, especially if getting rid of them will provide something valuable for your future.
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By Cleo Wade

Cleo Wade is a newly discovered (by me, anyway), poet and Millenial Muse.  I love reading her work, just as I love interacting with and learning from today’s young people. They aren’t blindly pursuing the things my generation valued without first examining the true costs to their mental health, the community and environment.  I find them all very refreshing and look forward to learning more from this younger generation.  They give me hope for a kinder world committed to social and economic justice.  Turning the world over to the next generation is just a natural next step in my list of “risks worth taking.”  How grateful I am to have had the luxury of choosing each risk. Every single one.

 

 

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A Gentleman in a Turbulent World

Gentleman

 

This is a post I have been thinking about for over 2 months but this week provides the perfect backdrop to what I want to talk about:  the characteristics of a gentleman.  Specifically, the man I married and had children with.  As a young woman, the things I loved about my husband hit all the “marriage material” marks:  well-educated, hard- working, sweet, funny and eager to have a family. After 22 years of marriage, the single trait that stands out above all others has nothing to do with personality and everything to do with character:  my husband is a gentleman.  He can be trusted to consistently be fair, loving and even-tempered.  He treats people with respect, no matter how he feels about them.  And he never ever, not once, expected the world to hand him anything he wasn’t willing to work for.

When my Dad passed away, his best friend shared something about him that I wish I had known and been able to process as I grew into adulthood and tried to understand the man he was.  His friend told me that, more than anything, my Dad was excited about having been accepted to Law School as a young man.  It was his dream that, unfortunately, never came to be.  Family obligations changed his fate and my Dad, ever the gentleman, honored his commitments and took care of his family instead of pursuing his dream.  I found this out exactly one day after he died and for me, this shred of information explained the unspoken questions I had about my Dad for 45 years.  Because he was a “man of the 1950’s,” I suppose it wasn’t considered appropriate or even relevant to talk about his dreams – he just got up every day and took care of his family.  He could have been a real resentful jerk about his fate but chose to be a gentleman.  That’s why I fell in love with my husband, I understand now.

I want our children to see their Dad through my eyes as they become adults and that’s really what this post is about.  I want them to know absolutely without a doubt that:

  • You are the Center of your Dad’s world – there is nothing he wouldn’t do to give you love, self-assurance, creativity, hope and excitement about the things you can do in this world with your one life;
  • Your Dad is often incorrectly mistaken as meek and mild because he has a gentle temperament but nothing could be further from the truth.  He is a fighter to the core and he’s overcome many personal and career obstacles fighting for you and our family.  Your Mom quits things – your Dad never does;
  • When other people are bragging and bullying their way to temporary, “better” positions in life, you can find your Dad quietly plugging away in his corner of the world, doing hundreds of small things that gentlemen do:  honoring promises; finishing projects long after your Mom has given up because it’s the right thing to do; staying focused on what needs to be done today to reach that distant dream in the future instead of procrastinating (again like your Mom); being kind to people who may have hurt him or someone he loves instead of puffing out his chest and threatening them in order to make himself feel better (you know I do this!).

When your Dad is angry, he finds a way to resolve it and move forward because he knows in and of itself, anger will destroy everything in his path.  Your Dad, the Gentleman, is a saver, a lover, and a person who takes what is before him today and makes something that lasts into the future.  In his quietly determined way, your Dad is the strongest person I know.  And he has never once bragged about that.

My hope for you children is that you will offer this wounded world some of your Dad’s fair-minded, even-tempered gentleness.  It will serve you and those around you very well for the rest of your lives.

The Path that Found Me

My husband and son are out of town on a big adventure for several days and my daughter and I are relaxing, enjoying some down time.  As is my habit when I have a little extra mental space and time, I go digging through old boxes in search of old letters, pictures, tokens from my past.  Though I have seen this photo so many times this morning it startled me:  she’s so young and fresh, like the strawberry she’s posing with next to her friend.  At 52, it is wonderful to have arrived at an age where I can recall a story for nearly every little scrap I have saved in my “special box” over the years.  Here’s what I remember about this picture.

The friend I am with was a special one for a short time.  We were both recently out of Graduate School and beginning our career paths, though mine was in the nonprofit world and her’s was health care administration.  Her career-obsessed, interrupting, impatient colleague drove us to the dinner we are enjoying in the photo.  I was half-heartedly pursuing what I thought would be a good “career path” for myself, though 50 percent of the people I met who were serious “career-oriented” people were way too intense for me.

Silly then, sillier now.  That’s me.  But I was ashamed of it then.  Looking at this sweet girl in the picture, I want to love her and reassure her that the right Path will find her. That it ultimately does not matter in life who you impress at meetings or how high you are willing to climb to earn a career.  The rude colleague of my friend ultimately achieved the highest honors in her career and she received accolades, awards and respect.  Good for her.  My “non-path path” has been glorious, sometimes painful but always given me the right kind of experience and space I needed to grow.

My son brilliantly summed up for me the most valuable part of any journey when he exclaimed his woes about his second day of kindergarten on the car ride home:  “My day was horrible!  The teacher only gave us 7 minutes to daydream!”  This kid is so my kid.  To resist externally imposed structure so resolutely at age 5 was both a blessing and curse for him and I have personally witnessed the toll an absurdly rigid school routine can take on his soul.  My advice to him and all you other free spirits out there:  trust yourself enough to know that the choices you make in life will yield abundance in many beautiful ways.  You may not choose a path that is laden with financial rewards and career milestones worthy of publishing in a business journal.  But this much I know:  THE WORLD NEEDS DAYDREAMERS!

So the path that found me was the one that was inside my heart as a youngster.  I loved getting on my bicycle and playing “carpool” with my imaginary children.  Unfortunately, as a woman in the eighties and nineties, it wasn’t very cool to admit that all you really wanted to do was “just be a Mom.”  But that’s what I have done and it has been my greatest joy in life.  I have a daughter, too, and she’s a creative genius and force of nature.  And I married a guy who does my favorite thing in the world:  he writes great love notes.  This one popped up when I was treasure hunting in my special box today.  We had been married exactly 5 weeks, I was undergoing testing for terrible allergies, and my guapo half Argentinean new groom wrote me these words:Love Note

My life has been rich and the journey becomes sweeter with age, as anybody over 50 understands, because we know each day is so precious.  I am so happy I decided to go through that box today and even happier that the Path I always dreamed of found me.

 

No, Deb, We’re Actually Not Playing in the Same Sandbox

I’ve written about the long period of time when my kids were young when a few businesses my husband was involved with simultaneously combusted – leaving our lives scattered in pieces to salvage the best we could.  So I won’t bore you with the story again except to reference an odd phrase one of my husband’s employees repeatedly used in conversation with me to convey – I am not sure what – “We’re all playing in the same sandbox!” she would exclaim every time she saw me.  Um….was it solidarity?  Compassion?  Manipulation?  Honestly, it annoyed me because we were SO NOT in the same “sandbox,” figuratively or literally.  There were disastrous and long-term financial and professional consequences from the partnerships and businesses that fell apart that affected many people – just not so much “Deb.”  The memory of this strange interaction tumults my consciousness back to a feeling of deep isolation.  And that’s when the addictive thinking began.

I mention this because I want to talk about trust and friendship and understanding.  These are the best contexts for me to share with you that recently I chose to have a couple of glasses of wine.  Relapse.  That’s what my Therapist calls it.  I think that is a brutal word, especially since some of the recovery literature and support groups make it sound so hauntingly awful – and shameful.  I am not ashamed that I wanted 2 glasses of wine ….. twice lately …. and that I gave in to my desire.  My Therapist wants to make sure I understand that the “relapse happens in the thinking a long time before the behavior” – and I do.  I will be honest, both times I drank I felt utterly terrible physically for 2 days after.  Nor did I get the “fun buzzed” feeling I recollected and longed for.  Just swallowing a sugary drink in hopes of recapturing a feeling of escape.  But the feeling never came and the after effects were awful.  So I don’t think I will be doing it again.  Yet my Therapist and I both want to know why I did it.

Isolation and not feeling connected are the roots of my addiction.  When I look around at the true friendships, real connections, and budding feelings of purpose I have at this perfectly awkward midlife time of life, what I have is good.  REALLY good.  I just don’t seem to want to accept it, if that makes sense.  My friend Shelley, a dear old friend with whom I have recently reconnected, helped me see something about myself glaringly obvious to her:  my addiction must have somehow also been driven by the desire to escape from the natural physical changes women experience in midlife. Yes, Shelley, yes! You are right!  Her compassion, insightfulness and kindness led to tears streaming down my face when she said:  “You are probably just now, in your sobriety, learning to accept your body and wrinkles for what they are while other women your age have had more time to adapt.”  Bingo.  I’ve written about taking dexedrine (pure speed prescribed by a doctor) for (I can’t even remember the bs diagnosis – something like “unresponsive depression”).  I was super skinny then.  Now I am hungry all the time.  But if you compare my overall health today to what it was during my skinny and addicted years – I am far healthier, though more plump, today.  Shelley is helping me understand “you are not supposed to look like you did 25 years ago.”  My body today is not a “mistake.”

I think comparison is the reason why I relapsed.  “Everyone else” is having so much fun drinking and having fabulous bodies.  I hope you are laughing because I am!  Our addictions will tell us lies about ourselves and others all day long if we let them.

What will I do now?  I will work harder to accept and love myself.  I have learned so many things from this journey but it takes time and effort to put it all into daily practice. Drinking is and always will be a problem for me.  When I drink, I am not my authentic self and it is difficult for me to get back to that.  Some of today’s “spiritual junkies” tout that “Calm is my superpower.”  And that sounds attractive.  I want it.  Like sobriety, I will do anything to get it and keep it.  Now back to work.

The Dog Days of Missing Boo

In 18 days, she’s coming back home for the summer!!!  It is a triumph to have survived the most dreaded event of my life.  I could not help but project onto my daughter my personal feelings about being away from home for the first time, so I caused myself infinitely more suffering this year than she ever came close to experiencing.  It’s what I do.

During her time away, my daughter has fully embraced her new experiences.  She’s in a great sorority, she participated in variety shows and charity events, she travelled to other college campuses, she has made wonderful friends, and she has her own separate identity that is hers and hers alone.  Her Dad and I are extremely humbled and proud.  And somehow, through all of it, my heart got BIGGER, not smaller, and we got closer, not more distant.

When my college Freshman daughter was in kindergarten, we BOTH hated it so much I had a countdown calendar in the kitchen that we eagerly scratched off the days leading up to the long-awaited summer break.  I think I hated kindergarten more, come to think of it, because my Isa spent the following summer writing letters to her teacher who was helping her husband heal from cancer.  That’s my girl, she stays connected to the people she cares about.  I should have known the “break” for college would not be an actual break, as my heart feared.

This is my message to all the Moms who are now in my shoes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) their child’s first year of college and what lies ahead:

  • Whatever groundwork has been laid before college holds the parent/child bond together;
  • In spite of whatever fears you may have from your past, your child is eager to move into the future and will do so regardless of how you feel, and it will be okay;
  • Your child needs to experience the world without you and vice versa – families change in many ways over time, but love makes more than enough room for the new stuff and people that will come into your life;
  • Instead of thinking as the transition to college as a personal loss, remind yourself each day that it is a victory – you created and raised a child who wants to engage in this crazy world with the tools you helped nurture;
  • If you are married or have a partner, be extremely proud that you did this together –  and if you are still together, even more so, for staying married and releasing a young adult into the world are both enormous accomplishments.

Yes, my heart aches because the time with my daughter as a budding adult is gone.  I am learning to put those feelings aside to wholeheartedly enjoy the friendship and journey we are on together.  She’s not going to leave me behind, she has proven that.  I can keep counting days until I see her again if I want to, but this year has shown me that our bond of togetherness is stronger than physical presence.  She lives in my heart.

This summer, she has promised to take some walks with me and our dog, Pudgey.  Over the winter, Pudgey and I got sort of lazy and may have put on a few pounds wallowing in self-pity.  Thank goodness the Commander is on her way back home to whip us into shape!

 

I Think I know What Joy Is

I got to spend 3 whole days with my daughter who left for college this past August.  Let it be known, Momma is still not adjusted to this transition.  Daughter, however, is fully settled and thriving.  Experiencing her life, all the wonderful parts she chose so lovingly to share with me this weekend, has blessed me immeasureably.  I see now the future she embraces instead of the fear, worry and sadness I have held for so long.
The weather was perfect, and our weekend began with my sweet dancer performing in her University’s “Greek Sing,” a talent show of sorts geared toward entertaining the hundreds (if not thousands) of Moms visiting their college students.  Seeing the entire ensemble gave me concrete proof that college students are “different” than high school students in many ways.

Young adults moving about the world in their own skin, playing by their own rules and trying new experiences with their peer groups exhibit an energy and effervescence that is contagious.

It felt wonderful to step away from the tired, grumpy, complain-y adult world of “ain’t it awful” to breathing the spring air of fresh life, young energy and optimism for the future.  That energy was palpable.  I soaked it in.  I feel new.

We enjoyed lunch with her new friends and Moms at the Sorority house then a lovely evening meal that she and her friends had carefully plotted – and everything was perfect.  I was captivated by watching my daughter and seeing both parts of myself as a young adult and a whole new beautiful person – the unique woman she is evolving to become.  She’s on her way.  She’s where she needs to be.  All my heaviness, worrying, tears – have just been for a Momma who didn’t yet understand her new place in her girl’s heart and life.

She proved to me this weekend I am still very much in her heart.  Fairly newly sober, I need “spaces” in each day now to process my thoughts and feelings and renew my energy.  Intuitively she understands this.  We did everything at my pace and she gently led me through the weekend without pressuring me to do more than I could.  Staying centered is important to me now, and I had no idea how very much my daughter respects and understands this.

Instead of continuing the evening with the group after the dinner, she told her friends we’d probably go back to our hotel and watch a movie.  I was delighted.  Off the hook yet also blessed to feel so “understood.”  Ironically, one of our favorite movies happened to be on tv – “The Blind Side.”  As we wound down the weekend, the words of Michael Orr to his Coach and later his Momma perfectly reflect my Daughter’s gentle love and presence:  “I’ve got your back,” he said.  So does she, and this Momma is beyond proud and happy.

 

The Practice of True Belonging

Lately I have reflected alot on Brene Brown’s definition of “true belonging” from her latest book, “Braving the Wilderness”:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to
yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

There is a big whopping heap of wisdom in that one little definition! Consider it from the framework of a marriage: a happy and successful “union,” some say, is the sum of two whole parts. Both partners are complete going into the union. What about the years when outside influences and family responsibilities gnaw at the core of one’s “whole self” – what about times when you are giving so much of yourself, you feel lost inside your own home?

This happened to me when a series of overwhelming challenges happened in rapid succession. Not only did I not belong to myself, I felt separate from the “wholeness” of marriage. Alone and terrified. Money, kids, health, work, geography and all kinds of other mini-challenges crept in my life and the me I was once so solidly familiar with started to disappear. Often weary, I dulled my fighting impulse with red wine. I thought I was stronger (i.e., belonged more authentically to myself) when I was drinking, but this could not have been further from the truth. I forgot how worthy I was of a happy life, so I drowned all my dreams and ambitions in alcohol. Fortunately for me and my family, a spark of life remained and I woke up in 2015 to the realization that I had made a big mess trying to comfort myself through numbing rather than belonging. I was in a crisis of disconnection.

Brene Brown continues her definition of true belonging”

“True belonging is not something that you negotiate externally, it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something and in braving the wilderness alone. When we reach this place even momentarily, we belong everywhere and nowhere. That sounds absurd, but it’s true.”

I wonder if the quest for “true belonging” isn’t the biggest challenge we as humans are meant to overcome. It seems so simple but the piece that brought me back to myself and the living world and my family was finding the sacredness in being a part of something. Somehow I had internalized the message early in life that belonging equaled weakness so when the road of my life got very twisty – I retreated into myself and stopped connecting.

Many addiction experts believe that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. The joy of connection is an equal opportunity healer – yet for some, the most difficult to attain. If you are around enough people who suffer from addiction disorders, you will likely hear it repeated that they are grateful for their addiction because it led them to this awareness that true belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world.

Living a sober life after years of dulling the brightness of the real world truly is an adventure in re-connecting with the child you once were and the loved ones you travel with. I am grateful to Brene Brown for helping me to clarify the importance of true belonging, it is the foundation for my whole life now.

Love Between Sisters

As the youngest of 5 sisters, “sisterly love” has been a major theme of my life.  One thing I absolutely know to be true:  if you have a sister, you have an ally, best friend, confidante and personal coach for life!  As a youngster, it was fun for me to write letters to my three oldest sisters who left for boarding high school (each one following the next, one year apart) starting when I was 4.  My goal was to entertain, make them laugh, and convince them to let me “tag along” behind every teenage adventure they had.  I remember hiding behind a curtained window hoping to catch one of them kissing a boy in our driveway – everyday was a new adventure (or violation, from their perspective)!  My relationship with my sister just 3 years older than me was much more like the traditional sibling rivalry yet unique because we have always had completely opposite personalities.  As anyone from a large family can attest, my identity and purpose throughout life has largely been framed in the context of being an “annoying little sister”!

A sister can enrich your life more than any other connection.  Between sisters, there is a shared lens on the world and life formed so strongly and early that it is nearly impenetrable.  What one can see, the other feels, maybe another interprets for the rest.

Sisterhood is a flowing exchange of perceiving reality and washing it in the bonds of caring, safety and love created when we were young – and giving it back so the world feels softer, more tolerable.

As I get older, washing the pain I feel in my sisters’ lives is the greatest act of love I can conceive.  These champions of my spirit move through the world and experience human pain, suffering, joy and the like but to me they seem larger than life, as if immortal.  I want us all to stay little and innocent forever.  For my psyche to process actual pain and suffering is an excruciating emotional task.  I do feel “one” with them.

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Embracing my sister on her wedding day after some huge life difficulties!

The past decade my sisters and I have all moved into middle age and experienced the natural illness and loss of a parent and the challenge of creating a loving environment for our Mom, who is very ill.  Throughout these days, life has brought us each some pretty difficult health, financial and emotional challenges.  The laughter we shared feels distant many days.

It’s hard to accept that the people you love most in the world can be cut at the knees by life yet the purpose of life is to flow freely through the pain and darkness and share joy and light with one another.

This much I know for sure, I may disagree with my sisters philosophically, politically or any number of ways, but THEY ARE ME.  We belong to each other, and that is the most important thing in the world.

Some people believe we make “spiritual contracts” before entering the physical world, and part of that is choosing the souls with whom we travel through life.  It makes sense to me when I consider the love I have for my sisters and the joy that comes from witnessing their high points in life.  This year, I want to be a better sister, I hope to be able to do more than just entertain and make them laugh.  I want to fill the vessel of sisterly love until it overflows.

When I feel wounded and scorned by an intolerant world that does not understand me, my sisters are there protecting my heart.  My sisters are Grace personified.